Saturday, 21 May 2011

Exploring vegetated shingle habitat - schools

Today we ran a special course for the Pupil Enrichment Programme - part of West Sussex County Councils Gifted and Talented programme. We were able to use a local school as a base to run the indoor session, looking at the coastal geography (starting from Cretaceous Period) and the fascinating local maritime history.

The indoor session also provided an introduction to the vegetated shingle habitat, the adaptations that allow it to grow in such a harsh environment and the wildlife that the plants attract. This prepared the pupils for the practical work we would do on the beach.

We started with a transect survey, using a tape and canes, and the pupils surveyed the beach in metre squares from the top of the beach to the high tide line.

The pupils also investigated the plants themselves looking for special adaptations and identifying the plants.

Back in the classroom we discussed our findings. We also discussed invasive species, many of which are garden escapees. Due to garden rubbish being dumped on the beach, this is causing the shingle to become more rich in nutrients allowing the invasive species to take over and swamp out some of the vegetated shingle plants.

The main problem species are red valerian and silver ragwort. We counted the number of squares that contained these species. The result was 13 out of 40 squares in one transect and 15 out of 40 squares in the second transect.

In the afternoon session we returned to the beach to record the wildlife that we saw.
There were only a few bird species visible today, house sparrow, starling and carrion crow

We did watch a herring gull repeatedly picking up and dropping a seashell in an attempt to break it open and eat the occupant.
The afternoon was quite sunny and so we saw many wall lizard amongst the vegetation.
It was a bit windy so we did not see many butterflies, mainly white butterflies.
However we did find several caterpillars of the Garden Tiger Moth. These were on several of the silver ragwort.

There were also two types of beetle, this attractive Malachius bipustulus

and this Oedemera nobilis
There were several zebra jumping spiders

One solitary black ant.
Last year I ran a pilot project called Bees on the Beach. The aim of this project was to find out what bee species were present on the beach. Most importantly, to record the plant species that the various bee species pollinated and how this changed at different times of the year.

So we also recorded the bees we saw and the plants that they were visiting. These included a bumble bees and a few honey bees. We saw one solitary bee, Adrena species, and a cuckoo bumble bee that lays its eggs in other bees nests so that they will care for them. The cuckoo bee looks like the queen bee of the species whose nest they lay their eggs in.
Two banded bumble bee on sea kale flowers.

 Red tailed bumble bee on yellow horned poppy

A red tailed bumble bee on thrift

We saw a good variety of invertebrates on the plants. Back in the classroom we discussed what animals we had seen and then finished off with a round up and final questions.

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